Monday, 18 May 2009

The HCSB - The NIV You've Always Wanted

I like to talk a bit about bible translations. I love Scripture and have a passion to see it translated accurately AND clearly. Since 2001, the English Standard Version has been hailed as a kind of Messianic-like translation (e.g. here and here) that would sort out all of the problems raised by the pesky NIV. It was also seen as something of a conservative reaction in the face of the rise of gender-neutral translations. A who's-who of Reformed evangelicals have endorsed it, hailing it as the greatest thing since the Chicken Royale with cheese. It is regarded by many as the perfect 'all in one' for studying, memorising with the family and devotional reading. Yet there are many who disagree as to the pedigree of the ESV.

I personally find that reading the ESV in places is like stirring a bowl of overheated porridge, treacle, syrup and tar with a rubber spatula in a cement mixer. Recently I read a passage of Jonah where the LORD said to Jonah "Do you do well to be angry?" (4:4 ESV) This passage sums up all I dislike about the ESV i.e. unnecessarily archaic, stilted and unnatural. What's wrong with just saying "Is it right for you to be angry?" (As a friend told me, his lecturer at Oak Hill Theological College remarked that it seems English was a second language for the ESV translators! Ouch!)

Nevertheless, ESV advocates will affirm that archaisms and turgid prose are the price of accuracy. I'm no linguist nor the son of a linguist, but I always felt this argument was deeply flawed. But now (to quote the apostle), having discovered the HCSB (the Holman Christian Standard Bible), I feel I have, in this translation, proof positive of this gut feeling.

The HCSB is a committee translation made up of scholars from a variety of backgrounds (contrary to popular belief, it is not a Southern Baptist translation). It was released in 2004 after almost 20 years in the making. The translators sought to find a common sense route between the two ends of the translation spectrum i.e. formal equivalence (word for word) and functional equivalence (thought for thought). They named their approach "optimal equivalence". I always wondered why more translations don't take this more mediating approach as opposed to seemingly letting their philosophy govern common sense renderings of many passages.

After spending just a little time with this translation, I am convinced that it is 'the one' that the Reformed/evangelical world is looking for. Clearly the ESV is inappropriate for use across the board. Why turn kids off to Scripture by re-enforcing the worldly prejudice, through unnecessary archaisms, that Christianity is outdated? The NIV, on the other hand, has been roundly criticised for being too free in many places. For instance, the NIV handling of the Greek term sarx (lit. flesh) has exasperated many preachers and scholars. Furthermore, given the outrage over the gender inclusive language of the TNIV, it is clear that the church is not ready to adopt this type of translation.

The HCSB seems to embody all that is good about the NIV and the ESV without resorting to overly free renderings or poor readability and archaisms. For instance, look at the MAGNIFICENT rendering of Phillipians 2:5-11:

5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man in His external form,
8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
9 For this reason God also highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth —
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The HCSB manages also to retain concordance with important words like sarx, while avoiding semantic illegitimate totality transfer. Look at the rendering of 1 Peter 3:18:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that He might bring you to God,
after being put to death in the fleshly realm
but made alive in the spiritual realm.

Compare that with the NIV which states:

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit

As to gender inclusive language, the HCSB is fairly conservative without being overly stodgy. It expects its readers to use and understand classical masculine pronouns where necessary. (I'm still in a state of flux with this one. Although nowadays one rarely hears someone speak using masculine pronouns, sometimes the use of a masculine pronoun as a literary device is unavoidable.)

It is also pretty cutting edge in many places and not hide bound by tradition. For instance, in many places it translates LORD as Yahweh (and this will become more prominent in the 2009 revision), not to mention John 3:16:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Despite hearing that passage read thousands of times in other translations, I only understood the passage after reading it in the HCSB. The passage is not speaking of magnitude (i.e. God loved the world sooooo much) but rather quality (here's how God showed his love).

The HCSB is readable, contemporary, clear AND accurate. It is a joy to read and should become the standard English speaking bible of the 21st century. There are just a few hurdles to this, which I'll look at in another post.

PS this interview with the lead editor Ed Blum is well worth a look.


Anonymous said...

I just ran across your post here. I agree with you that the HCSB is the NIV folks have always wanted. In fact it might actually be the TNIV that the evangelical community was wanting and expecting when it was released.

I use the HCSB extensively, it is my main translation for teaching, reading etc. I really enjoy it. The second edition due out early next year holds great promise based on the changes I have seen.

James said...

I've heard praises galore for the ESV... I like it... but having read the HCSB... I love that it (at least my one did) all the alternative translations of (mildly) controversial areas and have come to regard it as equal to or better than the ESV.

AlexSantxo said...

Got here through a Google search... Great point on John 3:16. Definitely will include the HCSB in my reading plan.